May 28, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Diego Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko (9) hits a single during the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Everything was rosy for Gyorko and the Padres heading into 2014. After launching a rookie-leading 23 bombs that helped lead him to a 110 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR, the future was bright for the young second baseman. The Steamer forecast system projected Gyorko to be the sixth most valuable 2B in 2014 with 3.2 fWAR, Oliver had him projected for 3.4 fWAR and Fangraphs’ crowdsourced projections pegged him for 4.0 fWAR. GM Josh Byrnes and the rest of the front office jumped on the breakout kid and decided to ink him to a six-year contract extension worth $35.5 million dollars, but could reach seven years and $48.5 million, if the club exercises its option year for 2020. The deal was never scrutinized or praised much, as it was overshadowed by other, bigger extensions to Craig Kimbrel, Yan Gomes, Chris Archer and more. Long-term extensions are usually team friendly, buying out a player’s arbitration years for a cheap price, but in return, give him job security in case he gets injured or pulls a Bobby Crosby. But the thing about the Jedd Gyorko extension, it was a bad deal from the start.
Even though some projection systems had Gyorko projected to do well, there were just as many that were down on him. PECOTA, Marcel and ZiPS both had him outside of the top ten for projected fWAR and WARP. How did these systems get such polarizing views? It’s in the way they work, because ZiPS, Marcel and PECOTA focus more on player comparisons. Take a look at some of the player comps Jedd Gyorko faced, starting with PECOTA:
(the wRC+ is for the year and age given, the after is the season immediately after. If Gyorko was on this list his year would be 2013, and his after would be this year’s wRC+)
And now Marcel:
(We don’t include ZiPS because the player comp data is not public)
You don’t have to be a data scientist to see the downward trend. What they all have in common is high strikeout rates, low walk rates and poor contact skills. Jedd Gyorko was 24 last year with a wRC+ of 110. This year? It dropped all the way to 34. His loss of 76 is the biggest on the board, but hardly surprising; there are three drops of 50 or more, and seven of double digits.
Of course, there are still some players who appear to offer hope for improvement. Chris Davis and Jason Kubel both had breakout years right after the Gyorko comp, and Chase Headley had one three years after. But there’s more to their breakouts. Kubel and Headley never found the same success after those years (and the Padres tried to extend Headley too) and Chris Davis underwent serious adjustments with a new team to get to his two breakout years. Again, the outlook on Gyorko is not good.
For someone who is so promising, what happens to reach this fall from grace? The answer is pretty simple. Jedd Gyorko maintains a power approach at the plate, with runners on, bases empty, two strikes, it doesn’t matter. His 23.4% strikeout rate last year was bad, and the increase to 25.3% is plain terrible. It’s not like the strikeouts are unexpected either, Gyorko has one of the worst contact percentages in the game over the past two years at 73.9%. And thanks to the great work by Mark Simon of ESPN stats and info, we know how ofter Gyorko is hitting the ball hard, a rate of 15%. League average is 17% and the low mark puts him in the lower quadrant of all non-pitchers. And now the power’s disappearing because he started pounding everything into the ground. He went from hitting 37.6% grounders last year up to 44.4%, the 11th biggest jump in the majors.
Gyorko was known last year for crushing the ball belt high, and everything inside. This year? He can barely touch anything in the strike zone:
Pitchers adapted to his hot zones, and exploited his low contact ways. They have done so by only attacking his sweet spot with off speed pitches, and keeping fastballs away, an approach which he has considerable trouble with.
A visual of Gyorko’s trouble with outside heat. Cubs’ play-by-play announcer Len Kasper’s call on the strikeout was from the famous Seinfeld quote, “Hey, the jerk store called and they’re running out of you.”
Gyorko’s plantar fasciitis diagnosis came at a convenient time, as Gyorko is suffering the largest wRC+ drop in baseball so far this season. There may be hope from fans and management that all he needs is some time to clear his mind to return to last year’s form, but there are larger, underlying issues. Gyorko’s lack of any patience and contact skills have made him explosive, and not in a good way. He could still hit a few homers, and he won’t hit .162 the rest of the year. But there’s little value in Gyorko, who’s tied up for six year at a sizable cap hit for someone who already is worth -1.1 fWAR this season. His player comps show the future isn’t bright lights and beaches, and without and serious changes he will be lucky to see the starting lineup consistently for the rest of that contract.